Red Riots beat Cheverus in down-to-the-wire quarterfinal

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South Portland sophomore Bradley McMains celebrates a goal during the Red Riots’ 4-2 win over Cheverus in Wednesday’s Class A South Final.

Brianna Soukup / Portland Press Herald photos.

More photos below.

PORTLAND—It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t without controversy, but the South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete co-op boys’ hockey team is heading to the semifinals.

For just the third time in history.

The Red Riots, seeded third in Class A South, met No. 6 Cheverus Wednesday evening at Troubh Ice Arena in a quarterfinal that had a little bit of everything.

It took only 31 seconds for the Red Riots to take the lead, as junior Deven Hannan broke the ice.

The Red Riots then doubled their lead with 3:03 remaining in the first period, as senior Mitchell Adams scored a short-handed goal.

When South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete scored again, 31 seconds into the second period, when sophomore Bradley McMains finished, it appeared en route to a decisive win, but the Stags showed their heart and pride and battled back.

Cheverus got on the board with 11:03 to go in the second, when senior Colby Anton scored unassisted and three minutes later, playing short-handed, the Stags cut their deficit to 3-2, as junior Jackson Wilson finished.

Cheverus then had several minutes of power play with a chance to draw even, but couldn’t do so.

The Stags remained within a goal in the third period and appeared to tie it with two minutes left, but much to Cheverus’ chagrin, the goal was waved off and with 13.2 seconds left, Hannan added an empty net tally to clinch the Red Riots’ 4-2 victory.

South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete improved to 11-8, ended Cheverus’ season at 8-11, punched its ticket to the semifinals for just the third time in program history and advanced to battle No. 2 seed and reigning regional champion Biddeford (13-6) in the Class A South semifinals Saturday at 2 p.m., at the Colisee in Lewiston.

“This is a huge win,” said Red Riots coach Joe Robinson. “Early in the year, it was looking pretty grim, but we’ve battled back and put together some big wins. We’re playing well right now. I’m very proud.”

Anyone’s region

The feeling all season, and entering the postseason, was that Class A South was as wide open as ever and that any of the teams could make a case for winning the region.

Cheverus and the Red Riots certainly had reason for optimism entering play.

South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete had a memorable campaign, which included a program-first victory over state standard bearer Lewiston. The Red Riots also beat contenders Scarborough and Thornton Academy (twice) and wound up with the No. 3 seed, their best ranking since the 2002-03 campaign.

Cheverus, meanwhile, which was a regional finalist in 2017-18, was streaky in coach Mike Carmody’s first season, losing four in a row in one stretch, then winning four straight, before dropping three consecutive games. The Stags entered the postseason as a dangerous No. 6 seed.

Cheverus won the regular season meeting, 4-1, Jan. 26.

The Stags had won both prior playoff meetings with a 5-2 victory in the 2017 Class A South quarterfinals the most recent (Cheverus also took the 2004 Western A quarterfinals, 4-3).

Wednesday, South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete found a way to advance.

It took the Red Riots all of 29 seconds to get the jump, as sophomore Anthony Pancioicco set up Hannan for a shot which beat Cheverus sophomore goalie Bryson Pomerleau for a quick 1-0 lead.

“At the beginning of the year, we got down early and that takes life out of a team,” Hannan said. “For us to get up early, that was really big. It gave us a lot of momentum. I just saw the puck sitting there. All year, I got that shot blocked. I just put it to my left and shot hard. I don’t know if anyone knew it went in.”

South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete’s second goal came man-down at 11:57, as senior Ben Musgrove got the puck to Adams, who put it in the net.

Late in the frame, Red Riots junior goalie Liam McGibbon denied junior Jack Chaput and the Red Riots, who had a 5-3 edge in shots on goal, held a 2-0 advantage at the first intermission.

When freshman Cullen Adams set up McMains 31 seconds into the second period, South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete had a seemingly comfortable three-goal lead, but the rest of the period belonged to the Stags.

Cheverus got some life at 3:57, as Anton raced in and finishing unassisted, cutting the deficit to 3-1.

McMains nearly had another breakaway goal 40 seconds later, but Pomerleau denied him.

The Stags then pulled within one, short-handed at 6:54, as Wilson scored unassisted.

The fact that the game remained 3-2 through the rest of the period was shocking, considering Cheverus was on the power play, and for nearly three minutes, in a 5-on-3 situation, for nearly six minutes.

At 10:32, Anton had a great look to tie, but McGibbon made the save.

After Pomerleau denied a short-handed shot from Red Riots junior Gus Lappin, McGibbon saved a shot from freshman Kevin Connolly on the power play, then, 5-on-5, McGibbon robbed Anton with just 9.7 seconds to go to send the contest to third period with South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete clinging to a 3-2 lead.

“It was a rough second period,” said Hannan. “We got off our game and penalties hurt us. It was amazing we could kill that.”

“Obviously, we ran into some penalty trouble, but we overcame,” Robinson said. “We’ve done a lot of work on our power play. Our guys didn’t let outside factors control their game. I preach that a lot. The only thing you can control is your mind and your energy. We killed it. We were frustrated, but we killed it and that was something to be excited about.”

The Red Riots nearly scored another quick goal when the third period started when McMains went one-on-one with Pomerleau, but Pomerleau made the save, keeping the Stags’ deficit at one.

With 9:22 left, Anton nearly tied it, but McGibbon made the stop.

With 6:57 remaining, Wilson’s rush ended in a clutch McGibbon save, but on the play, junior Austin Gross was sent to the penalty box, giving Cheverus another power play.

Cheverus junior Colin Doherty fired a promising wrister 13 seconds later, but McGibbon made the save.

With 3:20 to go, a bid from senior Alex Brewer was saved by McGibbon.

Then, with 2 minutes on the clock, after McGibbon saved an initial shot, the goalie fell to the ice and a whistle blew, but Brewer buried the rebound and while the Stags celebrated, the Red Riots argued that the goal shouldn’t stand.

After the officials conferred with an off-ice official, the ruling was that the goal didn’t stand.

And as you can imagine, the ruling was met with completely disparate reactions.

“I was on the bench, but usually if the goalie is curled up, the whistle is blown and the play is dead and that’s what happened,” Hannan said. “They made the right call.” 

“They told me the line judge heard that the whistle was blown,” said Robinson. “I was stressing out. No calls went our way all night, so I was thinking why would it happen now? We really dodged a bullet there.”

Carmody disagreed.

“I’m still scratching my head on it,” he said. “You have three on-ice officials and a goal judge and they still got the call wrong. We dug a hole, but we’re a character team and we kept pushing and it looked like we had it. (The officials) said they lost sight of (the puck). It’s hard to swallow.”

After pulling Pomerleau, the Stags had one final look to tie, but McGibbon stopped it and South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete transitioned to offense and Hannan’s empty netter slammed the door on a 4-2 victory.

“That (empty netter) was awesome,” Hannan said. “We’ve struggled to beat Cheverus and we finally got it done.” 

“There was no way Cheverus would lay down and die and they didn’t, but I think 5-on-5, when those opportunities were there, we pretty much dominated,” Robinson said. “Our forecheck was great tonight. Liam made some fantastic saves. He’s coming on strong. We had to find another gear and win the one-on-one battles.”

The Red Riots got 20 saves from McGibbon.

Disappointing

Cheverus had a 22-19 edge in shots on goal and got 18 saves from Pomerleau, but suffered a painful ending.

“I’m proud of the effort we put forth,” said Carmody. “It was a slow start for us and to their credit, (the Red Riots) brought the intensity and we had trouble matching up. We had opportunities throughout the second and third (periods) to get back into it, but their goalie made big saves.

“The kids did some great things. I just got done telling them in the locker room, that it stinks right now because you care. They put maximum effort into it. Our season had ebbs and flows. For a team with two lines and four (defensemen), I’m pretty proud of what they accomplished. We’re a young team and hopefully this was a big learning experience.”

Defending champs await

Biddeford won, 5-3, at SP/Freeport/Waynflete on Valentine’s Day. The Tigers have won all three prior playoff meetings, with last year’s 6-3 victory in the quarterfinals the most recent.

The Red Riots know they have a golden opportunity to do something no previous South Portland team has even accomplished.

Go to a regional final.

Not that it will come easily.

“It’s awesome to go to Lewiston,” Hannan said. “We can’t wait. Anybody can beat anybody. We’ll keep doing what we’ve been doing.”

“That’s going to be another tough game,” Robinson said. “They’ve got a talented squad, probably the best forward in the state, two of the best (defenders) and one of the best goalies and one of the best coaches (Jason Tremblay, a coach Robinson served as an assistant at Cape Elizabeth years ago). It will be a fun experience for the guys. It’ll be a fun game.”

Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

South Portland sophomore Bradley McMains races up the ice.

South Portland junior Gus Lappin and Cheverus freshman Kevin Connolly battle for the puck.

Cheverus sophomore Jackson Header pins South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete sophomore Owen Anderson against the boards.

Cheverus sophomore goalie Bryson Pomerleau prepares to deny South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete junior Gus Lappin.

South Portland junior Austin Gross pins Cheverus sophomore Ryan Joyce against the boards.

Cheverus celebrates the apparent tying goal with two minutes to play, but it waved off.

South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete junior Willets Meyer, left, congratulates junior Deven Hannan after a goal.

South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete coach Joe Robinson shows his displeasure with a call.

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.